Lachit Borphukon

Lachit Borphukon, the Ahom general under whose command the Assamese forces gave such a resounding defeat to the invading Moghul army sent by Emperor Aurangzeb under the leadership of Raja Ram Singh of Amber, must be counted as one of history's greatest generals if one takes into account the vast superiority, both in man and material of the opposing forces. Then his personal courage always leading from the front, even when in poor health and ordering his men to carry him to the front of the ranks on his sick bed. And finally his superb strategy and memorable sayings both in war and in peace. Lachit was the younger son of another Ahom nobleman of great wisdom and administrative acumen, Momai Tamuli Borborua.

Lachit enters history almost with a bang. King Chakradhwaj Singha (AD 1663-1670) while on a tour of his territories near the hills situated in its south eastern parts, called Lachit near him and in order to test him asked how the Moghul commanders at Guwahati could possibly be captured. Lachit gave a spirited reply which would be characteristic of him all through his later career. He said: "Are there no men in Your Majesty's kingdom? Who after all is the 'Bongal' (meaning the non-Assamese)? He is also only a man. Will not there be such men in our kingdom?" The king, himself a man famous in history for his spirited words and deeds, immediately appointed Lachit commander-in-chief of the Assamese forces to be sent to Guwahati for driving out the Moghuls.

The Assamese forces under the command of Lachit Borphukon started for Guwahati in August, 1668. They engaged the Moghuls first on the North Bank of the Brahmaputra opposite Guwahati then attacked them on the South Bank. In September 1668, the Moghul forces were driven out Guwahati. They moved downstream by the Brahmaputra. The Assamese forces chased them both by land and water. Later that year, the Assamese forces soundly defeated the Moghul invaders at the confluence of the river Manah with the Brahmaputra after obstructing their passage by the river. One of their top commanders Syed Feroze was taken prisoner.

The battle of Saraighat was fought sometime before April 8, 1671. For Raja Ram Singh went back on that day down the Brahmaputra. But the exact date of the battle of Saraighat is not given in the chronicle I am using for the purposes of writing this article. Here I must add a word about the chronicle I am using and why I am using it. The manuscript of this chronicle was obtained by the late Hemchandra Goswami, the renowned Assamese poet during his deputation by the Assam government in 1912-13, from the family of Sukumar Mahanta of north Guwahati. The manuscript was written on the strips of bark of the Sanchi tree. I am using the printed version of this chronicle for two reasons. In the first place, I saw the manuscript, which was preserved in the office of the director of Historical and Antiquarian Studies, Assam at Guwahati. I happen to possess a printed version of this manuscript. When I came to know that the original version of this manuscript was in the Directorate of Historical and Antiquarian Studies, which was right opposite my own office I went and had a look at it. I thus made certain that there was an original manuscript, which is not always the case.

And secondly this chronicle gives, more than any other chronicle, the description of the battles fought between the Assamese and the Moghuls during August 1668 and April 1671 and especially of the battle of Saraighat. It gives details even of the positioning of the Assamese commanders on the eve of this great naval battle. However, it does not give the exact date of the battle.

I consulted Dr S.K. Bhuyan's Lachit Borphukon and his Times also. He is considered one of our most important historians. It also does not give the date of the battle even approximately So, instead of resorting to what one of the greatest British historians of the 20th century E.H. Carr, calls scissors-and-paste history, I have faithfully followed this one chronicle for whatever it is worth.

Having thus given the merits of the chronicle, I may give an account of whatever has been written about Lachit Borphukon there. Unfortunately, the account is not chronological. So instead of hazarding a probable chronology, I shall follow the order of the paragraphs of the chronicle.

After the dramatic first appearance of Lachit and his fateful appointment of Commander-inChief of the forces despatched to recapture Guwahti, we find the names of other important commanders accompanying him. They were: Charingia Pelon Phukon who later became Borborua, the fourth highest functionary in the Ahom military-cum-administrative hierarchy; Miri Sandikoi Phukon, who was later appointed commander of the forces from the village Lathia to the hill of Chila, both on the north bank of the Brahmaputra near the present township of Aminagaon. There were two others of whom there was no further mention. They were Bheba Phukon and laluk Phukon.

This is how the war for capturing Guwahati proceeded from August 1668 to April 8, 1671, the date when the Commander-in-Chief of the Moghul forces Raja Ram Singh finally went away.

The Assamese forces after arriving near Guwahati, proceeded both by land and water. We found that the first engagement was at a place called Banhbari, where a commander named Dihingia Phukon quartered the force under him. There, two persons named Roshan and Beg who were probably local Moghul commanders were killed. They also took a booty of 12 horses and some swords an< shields. The entire force was preceding both by land ant water. The enemy was driven out from the Kajali, Sonapw and Tantimara - all these places are on the south bank o the Brahmaputra near the present township of Chandra pun Then they pushed forward by the north bank and con strutted fortifications on the west bank of the Bor Nadi, a tributary of the Brahmaputra. But before the comman ders, Bor Abhoypuria, Haladhia Chenga Rajkhowa ant Kalasu could take position inside the fortifications (there were others, too numerous to name) Baduli Phukon move a shield signalling the Assamese force to attack. It seem; an ally, the Darang Raja had also sent forces and made for tifications. In the counter attack by the Moghul force the stockade built by the Darang soldiers was destroyed and many officers of the Darang contingent fell in the battle. Haldhia Chenga Rajkhowa was hiding himself among the dead. He was also killed.

After this slight reversal, Lachit Borphukon came by boat to Itakhuli.

The Moghuls then attacked the fortifications at Itakhuli. Then Lanmakharu Abhoypuria Rajkhowa and Kalasu Dikhowmukhia Rajkhowa came out of the fortifications to fight with the enemy in a battle in which they were killed. Later on, however, at night some Moghul soldiers were killed by the Assamese and Syed Baba and many others fell in battle. Syed Baba was probably a junior commander. The Moghuls then retreated and fled downstream to Hajo about 20 km to the west of Guwahati by the river route. In 1668, the Assamese forces obstructed the Moghuls from going downstream at the confluence of the River Manah and the Brahmaputra. The Nawab Syed Feroze was taken prisoner but his son Syed Hussain escaped. The Assamese persons who were taken prisoner by the Moghuls were brought back. Traitors like Uddha Duwaria, Silpania Bamun and others who traitorously joined the Moghuls were also brought back. From that time onwards the river Manaha (Manah or Manas of the wildlife sanctuary fame) became the boundary between Assam and the Moghul Empire.

Soon after this victory Lachit, obviously anticipating more attacks thought of constructing earthen ramparts (gars) both to the north and south of Guwahati.

After sometime, Lachit Borphukon heard that Raja Ram Singh, the Moghul commander-in-chief was moving east from Rangamati, the Moghul headquarters situated near modern Dhubri, about 300 km west of Guwahati. Three Rajkhowas were then sent to keep watch over the Moghuls. This was their manoeuvre: They would go and show themselves to the Moghuls and then march back keeping the Moghuls behind them. They played hide and seek like this for six days. Finally they left two of their servants in the night camps where the Moghuls found them and took them along to Raja Ram Singh. Raja Ram Singh told the captured men: "You may go. The Borphukon should fight a battle with me."

The servants came back and reported to the Borphukon what Ram Singh had said. The Borphukon remained silent. Then after a discussion among the officers, it was decided to keep the Bongal at bay for sometime while sand ramparts were built. Then a message was sent through Botargonya Sondar Kataki and one Komora, which said: "Tell Brother King Ram Singh that we should also know why he has come for what purpose." When they came before Moghul frontier guards, the messengers' hands were tied with a rope and were brought before Ram Singh. When they delivered the message, they were freed and Feroze Khan, probably one of the subordinate officers was sent together with the messengers. Feroze Khan was received at the Dopdor. Then he said: "I have been instructed to say that the frontier was fixed by Aliyar Khan and (Momai Tamuli) Borborua be restored and let Guwahati be ceded to us. Let brother Phukon fight a battle. But if he does not have enough materials of war, let him send a message, I shall supply the materials." Lachit's reply matched

Ram Singh's both in sarcasm and wit He said: "Feroze Khan, you tell the brother King that Guwahati is no theirs. We had taken it from the Kochs. As for his offer of war materials, after such a long journey he mus be utterly tired. It is he who needs materials, for his are not sufficient fog himself. Our king, the Swargadeo has no dearth of materials. Let Ran Singh ask for them and we will give. To crown it all, the Borphukon arrested Feroze Khan and put him in prison at Latasil, a part of Guwahati.

After that Feroze Khan was taken to Koliahbor, about 200 km east of Guwahati. Hearing this, Ram Singh moved east from Rongamati and camped at Hajo, about 20 km from Guwahati to its northwest and on the north bank of the Brahmaputra. Now, from Hajo, the final onslaught on Guwahati by the Moghuls began.

Around April 6, 1668, Raja Ram Singh encamped at Agiathuti. Another Moghul commander Rashid Khan, who being a mansabdar of 3000 ranked lower than Ram Singh, a mansabdar of 5000 encamped at Sarai. The Assamese had an exchange of cannon fire with him in which the nephew of Ram Singh was killed. These small battles continued for, Dr S.K. Bhuyan's words: "A couple of years without any decisive results." That was until the Battle of Saraighat. It seems that the battle was fought after the death of King Chakradwaj Singha in 1670. This is how my Chronicle describes it.

The Moghul forces started a naval war on the Brahmaputra against the Assamese forces. It was fought with bows and arrows and guns. The Assamese forces began retreating and reached Aswakranta. Then message was sent to the Borphukon in these words, "The people are fleeing. If Phukondeo (Lachit) does not come we will be drowned." Lachit responded to this call. He was ill, but he ordered that he be taken in his sickbed to the outhouse.

Then he got himself carried to a boat with the help of Nadai of Kharangi. As the soldiers were retreating the boatmen tried to take the boat upstream. At that Lachit said these memorable words: "The King has put all the people in my hands to fight the Bongal. Shall I go back to my wife and children?" Then he pushed a few men into the water. He then turned his seven boats and rowed down to face the enemy. In the ensuing battle Rashid Khan was killed. Then the Assamese boats broke through the ranks of the Moghul boats. Many Moghuls were killed. The defeated Moghuls went back downstream.

After the battle was over, someone suggested that if the enemy is now given chase, "We can capture some materials." Lachit then said: "After fighting for one year and finding themselves unequal in strength, ashamed, they go downstream. Throwing away the glory of the King and also his ministers and his courtiers, is it worthwhile to capture some materials?"

Magnanimity in victory - Winston Churchill was to say three hundred years later.

(By Ajit Barua. Mr Barua has several novels and short stories to his credit)